Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran (17 January 1917 – 24 December 1987), popularly known by his initials MGR, was an Indian film actor, director, producer, and politician who also served as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu successively for three terms.
In his youth, MGR and his elder brother, M. G. Chakrapani became members of a drama troupe to support their family. Influenced by Gandhian ideals, MGR joined the Indian National Congress. After a few years of acting in plays, he made his film debut in the 1936 film Sathi Leelavathi in a supporting role. In the late 1940s he graduated to leading roles and for the next three decades dominated the Tamil film industry. He became a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and rose rapidly through its ranks. He successfully used his popularity as a film hero to build a large political base. In 1972, he left the DMK to form his own party the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK). In 1977 he became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu – the first film actor in India to become the chief minister of a state. He remained as chief minister till his death in 1987.
In Tamil Nadu, he has a reputation for philanthropism and is considered to be one of the greatest political leaders and actors of the state. He is idolized by his followers as Puratchi Thalaivar (lit. Revolutionary leader) MGR was posthumously honoured with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award.
Early life and background
MGR was born in Nawalapitiya near Kandy, Sri Lanka, to Malayali immigrant parents, Melakkath Gopala Menon and Maruthur Satyabhama. His family was originally from Vadavannur, Kollengode, Palakkad, Kerala. Melakkath Gopala Menon had been excommunicated (bhrasht) during a Smarthavicharam in 1903, regarding an allegation that dealt with an illicit relationship with a widowed Brahmin woman; and hence he left his family, and married Maruthur Satyabhama.
MGR was a Hindu and a devotee of Murugan, as is the common practice for Hindus in Sri Lanka.This was during his early days. Later, when he joined the DMK,a pro-rationalist party,he followed the rationalist ideology, though not appearing very aggressively atheistic.However,in later days after he founded his own party following his expulsion from the DMK, he seems to have shown some leaning towards religious faith. He had asked his followers to pray for the success of his AIADMK party.
His followers even prayed for him when it was determined that he had a kidney illness.After his demise, his wife opened up a temple in his name.
After his father’s death, he joined a drama troupe called Original Boys. Later, he entered the world of cinema, becoming an actor, and later a director, producer, and editor. MGR married Bargavi also known as Thangamani who died early due to illness. He later married Sathanandavathi who also died soon due to Tuberculosis. M. G. R. married V. N. Janaki a former Tamil film actress as his third wife after the death of his second wife. Janaki divorced her husband Ganapati Bhat, to marry MGR.
M. G. Ramachandran filmed with Kamal Haasan
He made his film debut in 1935, in the film Sathi Leelavathi, directed by Ellis Dungan, an American born film director. Generally starring in romance or action films, MGR got his big breakthrough in the 1947 film Manthiri Kumari, written by M. Karunanidhi. Soon he rose to superstardom in the 1954 blockbuster Malaikallan. He acted as hero in the Tamil film industry’s first ever colour movie, the 1955 blockbuster Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum. He rose to become the heart throb of millions of Indians with movies such as Anbe Vaa, Aayirathil Oruvan, Mahadevi, Panam Padaithavan, Ulagam Sutrum Vaalibhan, Adimai Penn, etc. He won the National Film Award for Best Actor for the film Rickshawkaran in 1972. His film Nadodi Mannan, released in 1958, was a Tamil version of the interpretation of the Prisoner of Zenda, was produced and directed by himself and released in 1956, ran to full houses. He began to act in many movies that appealed to the direct sentiments of the common man and the rich as well. His 1973 blockbuster Ulagam Sutrum Vaalibhan broke previous box office records. It was one of the few movies filmed abroad in those days. It was shot in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan. The DMK unsuccessfully tried to curtail that movie. His acting career ended in 1978 with his last movie, Madurai Meetta Sundara Pandian, which he acted when he was the Chief Minister of the state..
MGR and SSR in election campaign for DMK at THENI in 1962
MGR was a member of the Congress Party till 1953 and he used to wear Khādī. In 1953 MGR joined the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) with the help of M. Karunanidhi. He became a vocal Tamil and Dravidian nationalist and prominent member of the DMK (“Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam” aka Dravidian Progressive Federation). He added glamour to the Dravidian movement which was sweeping Tamil Nadu. He became a member of the state Legislative Council in 1962. He was first elected to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly in 1967. After the death of his mentor, Annadurai, MGR became the treasurer of DMK in 1969 after Karunanidhi became the chief minister.
On 12 January 1967, he was shot in the neck by fellow actor M.R. Radha.Both had worked together in 25 films together.When MGR was acting in the film Kaavalkaran in 1967 opposite J. Jayalalithaa this incident happened. Petralthaan Pillaya was the last movie of MGR-MR Radha together, shooting which ended just few days before MGR was shot at.The bullet was permanently lodged in his neck and his voice damaged. Within hours of the shooting, some 50,000 fans had gathered at the hospital where MGR had been taken. People cried in the streets. For six weeks, he lay in the hospital as fans awaited each report of his health. He was visited by a steady stream of commoners and luminaries of film industry, polity and bureaucracy.From his hospital bed, he conducted his campaign for Madras Legislative Assembly. He won twice the number of votes polled by his Congress rival and the largest vote polled by any candidate for the Assembly.
MGR at a function in January (1968)
In 1972, DMK leader Karunanithi started to project his first son M.K.Muthu in a big way in film industry and also in politics. Understanding the tactics played by Karunanithi to corner him, MGR started to claim that corruption had grown within the party after the demise of Annadurai and in a public meeting asked for the financial details of the party to be publicised which enraged the leadership of DMK. Consequently, as expected, MGR was expelled from the party, and floated a new party named Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK), later renamed All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the only powerful opponent of the DMK. He mobilised the period between 1972-1977 to spread and preach his party ambition with films like Netru Indru Naalai(1974), Idhayakani(1975), Indru Pol Endrum Vazhga (1977) etc. He became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on the 30th of July 1977, remaining in office till his death in 1987. In 1979, members of his party Satyavani Muthu and Aravinda Bala Pajanor, became the first non-Congress politicians from Tamil Nadu to be ministers in the Union Cabinet. The AIADMK won every state assembly election as long as MGR was alive. Although Anna Durai as well as Karunanidhi had acted in stage plays in trivial roles, in their younger days, before becoming chief minister, MGR was the first popular film actor to be a Chief Minister in India.Though the Congress won by a small margin of votes with the DMK in the 1980 parliamentary elections, the AIADMK under MGR won the state elections the same year.This made the Congress to ally with the AIADMK in the 1984 elections.
Once he became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, he placed great emphasis on social development, especially education. One of his most successful policies was the conversion of the “Midday Meal Scheme” introduced by the popular Congress Chief Minister and kingmaker K Kamaraj, which already was encouraging underprivileged children to attend school, into “MGR’s Nutritious Meal Scheme” in the Government-run and aided schools in Tamil Nadu by adding saththurundai -a nutritious sugary flour dumpling. This scheme was at a cost of Rs.100 crore and was imposed in 1982. A little more than 120000 children of the state were benefited. He also introduced Women’s Special buses. He introduced liquor ban in the state and preservation of old temples and historical monuments, ultimately increasing the state’s tourist income. He set up a free school for the Cinema Technicians children in Kodambakkam called MGR Primary & Higher Secondary School which provided Free Mid-Day meals in the 1950s. He led the ADMK to victory in the 1984 assembly elections despite not taking part in the campaigning. At that time he was undergoing medical treatment in America and his images were broadcast in Tamil Nadu through cinema halls. This was an effective campaign tactic and ADMK won the elections claiming around 56% of assembly seats, indicating the depth of his popular support. He won his seat in a double landslide victory in 1984. He still holds the record of being the chief minister with the highest consistent longevity of more than a decade.